Shanghaied In Penang

When I was teaching in Macau, my university had a lot of time off for holidays. For Christmas and New Years’ that year, two of my colleagues and I went to Singapore, Penang, and Kuala Lampur. Both of my colleagues, Julian and Angie, had planned the trip, which was essentially a food tour, and invited me to join them. I hadn’t been as excited about the food, but I figured it would be fun to visit all of these places, and I could always enjoy a few Tiger beers while they ate their fill of fish ball soup. We started in Singapore, and it was a wonderful time.

Penang would be the next stop. 

Julian’s parents are orchestra conductors and are friendly with a conductor who lived in Penang. He had agreed to show us around. One morning, he brought us to a hilltop that included a makeshift food stand run by two sisters who may have been in their eighties or nineties. The conductor explained they had been running the stall for the last few decades (It could have been for the last fifty or sixty years), and each morning they would carry their pots and pans up the hill to prepare the food for the day. 

Julian also had a friend who was attending a university in Penang. Later, we bid farewell to the conductor, and met Stacy, Julian’s friend, at her dorm room, and made plans to have dinner at a restaurant on the beach. Five of us got into a car with one of Stacy’s friends, Tony, behind the wheel.

Driving in Penang seemed pretty treacherous. There were a ton of mopeds on the roads and a lot of roundabouts. After driving for about thirty minutes, our car hit the tail of a moped as we were merging lanes. Now, we hadn’t been driving very fast, maybe 5 piles per hour, and while the moped fishtailed and fell over it seemed like a minor fender bender. However, we had also just stopped for a red light, so immediately, a bunch of other motorists and passersby intervened. I was in the backseat, but I could clearly see the moped driver on the ground. More and more people began to come out of the woodwork. Tony and Stacy both left the car to speak with the growing crowd. 

At this point, it was apparent the man who’d been hit on the moped would be fine. Complicating matters was the fact that Tony, who’d been driving our car, had left his driver’s license back at the dorm. 

The moped rider’s group was growing exponentially, and each new person seemed to have something new to add. I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, but the way they all gestured seemed to imply this was a catastrophic event. Whether we had been at fault or the moped rider seemed to be irrelevant. Finally, Stacy and Tony came back to the car and said everything was settled. We would drive to the nearest ATM, and Tony would pay the motorist we’d hit. We had an escort of moped riders as if we had been visiting dignitaries. I don’t remember how much money they got, but the event had shaken Tony for the rest of the evening. 

 This would not be the last time I got fleeced abroad. Later, I would visit The Philippines, alone. When I arrived at the airport, a woman wearing a laminate and business suit asked if I needed a ride. At the time, I didn’t realize she worked for an independent company separate from the airport. Instead of getting in the line for taxis, I took a van. I gave the driver my address for my hostel, and he couldn’t find the place. I told him to just let me out on the side of the road, and I would walk. I started down the road in the direction I assumed the hostel to be. Eventually, the road was no longer paved, the houses become corrugated metal shacks, and three shirtless gentlemen standing by the side of the road stared at me like I was a unicorn. 

Thankfully, a cab appeared and I hailed him. He told me I was lucky since he rarely drove through this neighborhood as it was dangerous. 

I have a tattoo of a phrase from The Aeneid to commemorate my recovery from a ruptured brain aneurysm: “Someday, perhaps, remembering even this will be a pleasure.” At some point, I’m planning on getting a tattoo of The Grim Reaper rolling dice with the phrase “Playing with house money.” 

It seems fitting. 

For Ricardo; gone but never forgotten. 

Andrew Davie has worked in theater, finance, and education. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant and has survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. He has published short stories at various places, a chapbook with The Daily Drunk, crime fiction novellas with All Due Respect and Close to the Bone, and an upcoming memoir. His other work can be found in links on his website

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